The World Cancer Research Fund has sent out large numbers of personally- addressed letters, which are ostensibly aimed at recruiting volunteers for its 1997 appeal.
People who have been "selected" are told that if they are unable to participate in fundraising efforts they have the option of sending the charity a donation. The letter, signed by Marilyn Gentry, the charity's executive director, is carefully-worded to give the impression that those who decline to help raise funds are inconveniencing the charity.
The 'No' option on the reply form reads: "I am sorry I will not be able to help as a volunteer. But I wanted to let you know now so you will have time to find someone to replace me in my neighbourhood. I am enclosing my contribution for the amount of pounds 10/pounds 15/pounds 25/more ..."
Hugh Rogers, a spokesman for the Charity Commission, said: "Over the last couple of years we have had a steady drip of complaints from members of the public about the methods this charity uses to raise funds. However, they are not actually doing anything wrong.
"We have had meetings with them and they have actually modified what they have done.
"At the end of the day they are aware that some people don't like the way they raise funds, but if the charity finds it is profitable it is up to them."
Susan Osborne of the Cancer Research Campaign, Britain's biggest cancer charity, said the CRC had received "three or four dozen" complaints about its rival's letters.
"Their tactics seem to be getting increasingly heavy-handed," she said. "Cancer is a very emotive subject and the one thing guaranteed to unnerve and distress people."
One person targetted by WCRF was Doreen Cope, a pensioner, of Harrow, Middlesex. She said: "I don't like the idea of people thinking they have got to be a volunteer or they have got to give money. How did they get my name and why?"
Chris Smith, Labour's health spokesman, also criticised the charity's tactics. "There's a need for a much more sensitive approach in raising money in these areas. People should not feel forced to contribute by the nature of such letters."
The World Cancer Research Fund was set up in 1990 and is one of the best- known of the 600 cancer-related charities in Britain. Closely-linked to the American Institute of Cancer Research, it funds the international study of the cause of the disease, using the slogan "Stopping Cancer Before It Starts".
Later this year, the charity is due to publish the results of a major international study into the links between cancer and diet, identifying foods which contribute to and give protection against the disease.
Christopher Coe, the charity's spokesman, said: "If we didn't ask people for money we would not be able to do anything. We apologise profusely if anybody contacts us and does not want to receive our stuff. We take them off the list immediately." He said people did have the option of throwing the request in the bin.
British charities are turning to American-pioneered methods in the increasingly competitive world of charity fundraising. The American Cancer Society now sends out up to 20 different mailshots in a single month and other American charities enclose free gifts with their letters. Research published last month by Market Movements, which monitors the use of direct mail in Britain, found that the number of charities using mailshots increased by a third last year to 402.Reuse content